In an effort to speed up the approval process for mines in British Columbia, Premier Christy Clark has nearly doubled the budget for the department responsible for permitting new mine projects.
Annual base funding for the mines and mineral resources division will jump to $20.1-million from $11.1-million and the government is establishing a major mines permitting office to ensure "improved turnaround times for notice of work permits," Ms. Clark said on Monday.
"Up to 10 new mines are expected to proceed in the next few years, and this new funding will make sure we are ready to support these projects," she said in a statement.
The changes come as her government struggles to deliver on a liquefied natural gas boom that has not developed as predicted.
Ms. Clark is clearly hoping to promote mining in B.C., which last year suffered a blow to its image when a massive tailings pond collapsed at Mount Polley, spilling 25 million cubic metres of pollutants into Quesnel Lake.
She said she remains encouraged that mining exploration is continuing in the province despite a drop in commodity prices over the past several months.
"We see exploration continuing to happen because, the thing with miners is they know it's a cyclical industry and they know their prices are going to go up and down. So as long as the exploration is continuing to happen, mines will eventually open," Ms. Clark said in Vancouver while attending a mining conference.
One of the most promising areas for mining development in the province is in the northwest, along the Alaska Panhandle.
But new B.C. mines there are being questioned by U.S. environmental organizations that fear pollutants will flow downstream into Alaska.
Ms. Clark said her government is trying to alleviate those concerns, but she also dismissed the United States as too negative in its attitude.
"In America, they are now in an era where they are trying to figure out on almost every resource development project how to get to 'no' as fast as they can. And here in British Columbia, we are trying to figure out how to set a pathway to get to 'yes,'" she said.
NDP leader John Horgan said he is glad to see new spending on mines, but said Ms. Clark's announcement is more about making up for past mistakes than creating new opportunities.
He said that between 2009 and 2014, the government's austerity drive robbed the mines department of important field staff.
"When you reduce your enforcement officers from almost 300 to almost 150, it gets pretty tough to claim you are beefing it up [by increasing spending again]," he said."They are trying to fix the hole they created in our enforcement capacity."
Mr. Horgan also said the government has focused too much on LNG, instead of helping the mining industry launch projects when mineral prices were high.
Green MLA Andrew Weaver said the government should be doing more to ensure existing mines meet standards, and not worrying so much about streamlining regulations to promote new ones.
"The problem is not so much in moving forward with more mining, it's what are you doing about those old tailings ponds? What are you doing to ensure the standards of existing mines are being met?" he said. "Surely you'd want to figure out what has happened [at Mount Polley] before you go ahead and repeat the mistake."
In addition to streamlining the permitting process, Ms. Clark also announced the extension to 2020 of generous mineral tax provisions for capital costs. And a $10-million flow-through tax credit has been extended to the end of 2015.
Gavin Dirom, president and CEO of the Association for Mineral Exploration B.C., said the flow-through program "will encourage more companies to explore for minerals in the province."
Karina Brino, president and CEO of the Mining Association of B.C., welcomed the additional funding for the Ministry of Energy and Mines and the creation of a new permitting office, saying it helps the province maintain its competitive advantage as a mining jurisdiction.
Editor's note: An earlier version of this story misspelled Gavin Dirom's name.